Afghanistan Rules of Engagement Redux

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

In response to our Changes to the Rules of Engagement for Afghanistan, Justbarkingmad wrote:

Some critics of McChrystal’s policy claim that this will deter commanders on the ground from taking proactive or offensive actions against the enemy. This critic claims that Marine operations in Helmand Province which resulted in the deaths of 400 Taliban fighters invalidates McChrystal’s metrics of success that use “civilians protected” rather than “enemies killed” as a measure of success. On the surface this appears like a rock solid argument, but in fact it is founded upon faulty assumptions. The most important assumption is that killing lots of bad guys will wear the enemy down and lead to victory. This cannot be further from the truth. Killing the enemy in and of itself accomplishes very little in COIN. Successful insurgents throughout time recognized that losing on the battlefield had very little to do with the ultimate outcome of the war. In our own American Revolution we lost more battles than we won and we still prevailed. Killing the enemy for the sake of killing the enemy means nothing… protecting the people from the enemy means everything.

Since my argument(s) have been utterly demolished it must be time to relinquish them.  They have let me down.  No, on second thought, maybe I won’t jettison my arguments after all.

This writer has done a good job of regurgitating the FM 3-24 talking points and theory (at least some of it), but it’s a sign of cult-like behavior to be able to stand in the face of evidence and deny its existence.  My arguments weren’t about theory.  Go back and read them again.

I stated that the best teachers are examples and stories.  Theory is only good insofar as it benefits us.  Where it fails to match reality it must be revisited, modified and/or jettisoned entirely.  If our critic would have continued our comprehensive coverage of the Marines in Helmand, he would have learned not only that they killed 400 Taliban fighters in Garmser, but that following this assault the town elders implored the Marines for protection and security.

Again, similar words were spoken upon the initial liberation of Garmser by the U.S. Marines: “The next day, at a meeting of Marines and Afghan elders, the bearded, turban-wearing men told Marine Capt. Charles O’Neill that the two sides could “join together” to fight the Taliban. “When you protect us, we will be able to protect you,” the leader of the elders said.”

Just how our critic supposes that the Marines could have protected the population of Garmser, while several hundred Taliban fighters were dug in and waiting for the Marines, he doesn’t say.  But he makes the mistake of conflating phases of the campaign, and also of failing to understand that the campaign will require various lines of operation or lines of effort.

Finally, he conflates the discussion topic – rules of engagement – with counterinsurgency theory.  This is a mistake made in the Small Wars Council discussion thread on the same topic.  Many participants in the discussion thread throw out the same meme.  It’s better to back away or find another tactic than it is to flatten domiciles with women and children in them.

How nice.  Let’s declare up front that no one wants to flatten homes with women and children in them.  In fact, we can state it more forcefully.  Yea verily we say unto thee, The Captain’s Journal doesn’t want to flatten homes full of women and children.  No one we know wants to flatten homes full of women and children.

Now that this exigency has been properly dealt with, may we advance the conversation forward, please?  The conversation isn’t about best practices in counterinsurgency.  The conversation is about rules of engagement, violation of which can lead from sanction to punishment by imprisonment.

Seldom is the situation so clear as known homes full of women and children.  The problem usually presents itself in a different form, e.g., situations in which the fight moves from one venue to another where the insurgents may now be mixed with noncombatants, with close air support (CAS) necessary in order to prevent significant U.S. casualties attempting to take a building by room clearing tactics.

Fine.  Provide guidance unique to that circumstance and have additional briefings for deploying units.  But don’t change the rules of engagement.  Again, I can point to a highly successful U.S. Marine Corps Operation that wouldn’t have been conducted under such draconian rules (the operation in Garmser, Helmand Province), because certainty would not have existed regarding noncombatant presence.

Finally, Andrew Exum says:

“We are not in Afghanistan to make sure that fewer Americans die,” said Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington research organization.

“We are in Afghanistan to make sure fewer Afghan civilians die.”

No, Andrew, we are not in Afghanistan to make sure that fewer Afghan civilians die (notice the exclusive reduction of counterinsurgency to a single focus, while we have claimed that in counterinsurgency there should be focii).  Making sure that fewer Afghan citizens die is a means to an end, just as is killing anti-Afghan forces, hard core Taliban and other takfiri organizations.  These things are all lines of effort and lines of operation.

I have been told that this change probably won’t affect behavior below the O3 level during a fire fight.  Perhaps so … we’ll wait to see for ourselves.  In any case, changing the formal rules by which Soldiers and Marines are held accountable is still ill advised in our opinion.  And this meme from CNAS is getting old and worn.

Prior:

Changes to the Rules of Engagement for Afghanistan

Update on ROE Changes for Afghanistan




You are currently reading "Afghanistan Rules of Engagement Redux", entry #3222 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Rules of Engagement and was published June 28th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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